I keep thinking about innovation. We all have to.
“The first step to winning the future is encouraging American innovation.” That was Barack Obama in his State of the Union address last January, when he hit the theme repeatedly, using the word innovation or innovate 11 times. And on this issue, at least, Republicans seem in sync with Obama. Listen to Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich or Mitch Daniels and the word innovation pops up again and again. Everyone wants innovation and agrees that it is the key to America’s future.
Innovation is as American as apple pie. It seems to accord with so many elements of our national character — ingenuity, freedom, flexibility, the willingness to question conventional wisdom and defy authority. But politicians are pinning their hopes on innovation for more urgent reasons. America’s future growth will have to come from new industries that create new products and processes. Older industries are under tremendous pressure. Technological change is making factories and offices far more efficient. The rise of low-wage manufacturing in China and low-wage services in India is moving jobs overseas. The only durable strength we have — the only one that can withstand these gale winds — is innovation.
Even more troubling, there are growing signs that the U.S. no longer has the commanding lead it once did in this area.
On his special about innovation on CNN, he interviews some genuine innovation heavy hitters, including Steven Johnson, the author of Where Good Ideas Come From (I presented my synopsis of this terrific book a few months ago at the First Friday Book Synopsis. You can purchase my synopsis, with handout + audio, at our companion web site, 15mintuebusinessbooks.com).
He repeats what many others are saying — what, seemingly, everyone is saying. For example, here is one recent article: U.S. Is Falling Behind in the Business of ‘Green’. From this article:
A recent report by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that while the clean technology sector was booming in Europe, Asia and Latin America, its competitive position was “at risk” in the United States because of “uncertainties surrounding key policies and incentives.”
And, as I think about all this innovation, I realize something else. A lot of innovation is putting a lot of people out of work. It goes back to the problem of “Automation” that Robert Reich wrote about. In Aftershock, he wrote:
The problem was not simply the loss of good jobs to workers in foreign nations but also automation… Remember bank tellers? Telephone operators? The fleets of airline workers behind counters who issued tickets? Service station attendants? These and millions of other jobs weren’t lost to globalization; they were lost to automation. American has lost at least as many jobs to automated technology as it has to trade.
Here is a summary of this aspect of the problem, quoted in Points this morning in the Dallas Morning News:
“If you’re doing something that can be written down in a programmatic, algorithmic manner, you’re gong to be substituted for quickly.” (Claudia Goldin, a Harvard economist, offering a dire job-market forecast for U.S. manufacturing workers).
So… we need innovation. We need to do new things. We need to do old things better, faster, more effectively. We need innovation in products, innovation in systems, innovation in every arena.
But, we also need some really innovative thinking in this area: “where will the new jobs come from?”
Anyway, I keep thinking about innovation.
Here is the latest post by Joseph A. Maciariello featured in the Joe’s Journal series at the Drucker Exchange (Dx) sponsored by the Drucker Institute. The Drucker Exchange (the Dx) is a platform for bettering society through effective management and responsible leadership. It is produced by the Drucker Institute, a think tank and action tank based at Claremont Graduate University that was established to advance the ideas and ideals of Peter F. Drucker, the father of modern management.
To check out a wealth of resources and subscribe to its online newsletter, please click here.
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“Charisma is ‘hot’ today. There is an enormous amount of talk about it, and an enormous number of books are written on the charismatic leader. But, the desire for charisma is a political death wish. No century has seen more leaders with more charisma than the 20th century, and never have political leaders done greater damage than the four giant leaders of the 20th century: Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler and Mao. What matters is not charisma. What matters is whether the leader leads in the right direction or misleads. The constructive achievements of the 20th century were the work of completely uncharismatic people. The two military men who guided the Allies to victory in World War II were Dwight Eisenhower and George Marshall. Both were highly disciplined, highly competent and deadly dull. Perhaps the greatest cause for hope, for optimism is that to the new majority, the knowledge workers, the old politics make no sense at all. But proven competence does.” – Peter F. Drucker
This was an important topic for Peter Drucker because of his extraordinarily negative experiences with charismatic leaders, who did what charismatic leaders are frequently prone to do — and that is to begin to believe that they’re infallible and that they know better than anybody else. This can and has lead to great harm.
Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler and Mao — especially Stalin, Hitler and Mao — were always on Drucker’s mind when he discussed the danger of charisma and when he wrote the article “Beware Charisma” (See Chapter 8, The New Realities). The problem with charisma in leadership is not charisma itself. If leaders are properly motivated to lead — that is, according to the mission of their organization, and they take on their responsibilities, not as a matter of rank or privilege, but as a matter of work and responsibility – then a charismatic dimension to one’s personality helps. Charisma can be productive. But there’s always danger lurking if charisma is not balanced.
If you go to the other side, Drucker notes that some of the most effective leaders in history, like Dwight Eisenhower, George Marshall, Harry Truman and Abraham Lincoln, were extraordinarily effective but were not known for their charisma. In the case of Truman, Drucker thought that he was about as charismatic as a dead mackerel. And Lincoln was an uncouth, raw-boned man from Kentucky. Drucker favored people for leadership who held socially productive missions; treated leadership as responsibility; and were able to lead effectively during turbulent times. He admired Winston Churchill who led England in World War II and who developed many able leaders.
Even good leaders with charisma face the danger of having success go to their heads. They get into situations where they tend to believe they’re infallible; they pile success upon success and think that they’re invincible. But, the best leaders serve the mission of their organization and do not seek their positions for purposes of power but for service. And they listen to others and take constructive criticism.
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Joseph A. Maciariello is the Horton Professor of Management & Director of Research and Education, The Drucker Institute. You can contact him directly at email@example.com.
Adam Bryant conducts interviews of senior-level executives that appear in his “Corner Office” column each week in the SundayBusiness section of The New York Times. Here are a few insights provided during an interview of Byron Lewis Sr., the chairman and chief executive of the UniWorld Group, who says he values common sense. But uncommon sense, Mr. Lewis says, is “where genius comes from.”
To read the complete interview and Bryant’s interviews of other executives, please click here.
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Got an M.B.A.? Great, but I Prefer Uncommon Sense
Bryant: How do you hire? What qualities are you looking for?
Lewis: I’m looking for entrepreneurial capabilities. I’m looking for integrity.
Bryant How do you tell if somebody has integrity?
Lewis: We ask them for references, but it’s also an intuition you need to have. Many people who come to us don’t have traditional backgrounds. I’m looking for people who have ideas. I’m looking for people who can move the agency forward. I am looking for people who are different but different within the context of a business.
Bryant: Can you elaborate on that last point?
Lewis: I’m looking for people who are not siloed. You have to know how to work with the creative people. You have to know how to bring the best out of them.
Bryant: What’s your advice for getting the most out of creative people?
Lewis: Creative people never know when or where the inspiration will come from, and leaders should understand that. The best way to build a team is to let the creative people feel that you understand them, and if they want to go off strategy, let them have their commercial or two, but make sure you have what the client asks for. The best creative also comes from good strategic planning and staying on point.
Bryant: Let’s say you just hired me, and I ask you, “What’s it like to work for you?”
Lewis: Well, I’m a piece of work. You have to understand that I never worked for an advertising agency or a mainstream marketing company. It might be difficult because I built this company and I’m a nontraditional person. I’m looking for ideas, and I’m looking for people who go beyond. When the thought hits me, I want to share it, and I’ll call a meeting in a moment. Working with me would be challenging, but rewarding.
Bryant: What’s your advice on how to lead and manage?
Lewis: What I’ve learned is that what I value the most is common sense. When you really find a leader, that person has uncommon sense. I do not believe in formulas. I believe in integrity. Integrity is that you feel a loyalty not only to the company but also loyalty to an idea. I’m driven by ideas and I want people to be open and honest with what they believe, because I’ve learned to listen and value ideas. My company depends upon innovation. That’s how we started, and the older we get, the more important innovation becomes. Change can only come from people who feel free and have the courage to stand up for what they believe.
Bryant: How has your leadership style evolved?
Lewis: To be candid, I used to tell people that you have to be able to stand me — I am insistent on doing things a certain way because I knew they worked. But that wasn’t necessarily creating harmony, and now I’m aware that I want to hear from others. I want them to feel free to be honest about what they think.
Bryant: How do you create a culture of honesty?
Lewis: The truth is, people need to see their ideas being used. I used to insist upon doing it my way. Now, I’m much more interested in seeing that they do it their way.
Bryant: And when did that change happen?
Lewis: It’s happened much more recently. I’m pretty clear about who I am. I’m very clear about where I stand. I think my brand is, “Byron is kind of difficult but he’s interesting.” People are aware that I’m difficult, but they also see that it works.
Bryant: And why are you difficult?
Lewis: As a start-up company, I was desperate to make sure that we would be successful. I did a lot of things myself, and it’s difficult to move away from that, partly because I managed to keep the company going during some tough times.
But it is very important that we have mutual respect. It’s particularly important because UniWorld is truly diverse. Our people bring different perspectives and customs that really contribute to our understanding of what we do.
People who work here know the history of the company, and that is our culture. It’s about innovation and change. There’s no formula, but that’s what we’ve created, and there is respect for individual people and where they come from. In another sense — I’m not as interested in M.B.A.’s as I might have been. I respect people for what they bring. I’m looking for people who have common sense, common decency. But I’m primarily looking for people who have uncommon sense because that’s where genius comes from.
Bryant: Talk more about that phrase, if you would.
Lewis: Uncommon sense is what Bill Gates and certain people have. Sure, they went to college, but they didn’t even finish because they created an idea. They had a vision and acted upon it.
I don’t claim to be on that level, but with my history and my company’s history, that’s in our DNA and it works, particularly in these times. I’m open to ideas as long as they’re strategically sound.
People of color — because of their background — they’re used to hard times and hard living. Hard times and hard living create the originality and individuality that you find among black athletes, black musicians, jazz and hip-hop artists. That’s what I’m looking for in my space. Jazz musicians do not think traditionally. They are creative people. That’s what makes this music, makes our culture global. I’m looking for those characteristics.
Uncommon to me is where genius comes from. Uncommon people, in our culture, get the most traction, and we see that today, where Mary J. Blige, P. Diddy and Jay-Z are now considered fashion icons. A person like Queen Latifah — who would ever have imagined that she would be an iconic figure for P.& G.’s CoverGirl brand? She has an uncommon background, an uncommon view of the world. Strangely enough, those views resonate across all spaces.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Adam Bryant, deputy national editor of The New York Times, oversees coverage of education issues, military affairs, law, and works with reporters in many of the Times‘ domestic bureaus. He also conducts interviews with CEOs and other leaders for Corner Office, a weekly feature in the SundayBusiness section and on nytimes.com that he started in March 2009. In his new book, The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed, (Times Books), he analyzes the broader lessons that emerge from his interviews with more than 70 leaders. To read an excerpt, please click here. To contact him, please click here.